After contentious public debate, the Juneau Assembly voted down Monday a proposal to continue fluoridating the city’s water supply.
The proposal failed narrowly in a 4-5 vote against the procedure. Assembly member Sara Chambers was one of those who was against fluoridation.
“Beyond the medical concerns is a philosophical opposition (to) government mass medication. I want to trust my dentist and I do,” Chambers said. “But I don’t trust the government to dose accurately.”
The issue arose nearly two years ago when it was discovered that a public works employee had stopped adding fluoride to drinking water because it was suspected of eroding city pipes. When area doctors and dentists learned the program had ceased, they successfully argued that it be resumed. A task force appointed by the Assembly to study fluoridation was split on the issue.
Roughly 40 people signed up to speak at Monday’s hearing. Approximately three-quarters of the speakers, many of them health practitioners, spoke in favor of fluoridation. Supporters argue that water fluoridation is proven to prevent tooth decay in children and is a critical component of community health.
“By eliminating the fluoride in the water system you are doing a lot of harm to a lot of children’s teeth,” said Lon Anderson, a Juneau dentist.
Deborah Erickson, the acting director of the state Division of Public Health, warned against misinformation about fluoride on the Web.
“I would hope that you are all looking at this really as a decision that benefits the community,” she said.
Several residents, however, voiced strong opposition to the fluoridation program.
“Why expose an entire population to fluoride?” asked resident David Ham. “We are not preventing others from taking fluoride as a supplement. For the section of the population who wants to take their own supplement, please do so. I think the best way to do that is through the health system by giving it to the kids.”
Among Alaskan cities, Ketchikan and Haines do not fluoridate their water. Anchorage, Sitka, Fairbanks and Bethel do. While a majority of U.S. city dwellers have fluoridated water systems, the practice is rejected in most European countries. Acute fluoride poisoning can result in symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the United States’ worst fluoride system malfunctions occurred in the Alaskan town of Hooper Bay in 1992. One person died and 296 people showed symptoms of poisoning, according to a CDC report.
In other business Monday evening, the Assembly approved 6-3 the purchase of the historic Scottish Rite Temple building for $700,000. The Alaska Committee will contribute an additional $25,000 to meet the asking price. The city would then sell the building to the state for $1 for use by the Legislature. Five residents spoke in opposition of the sale, citing concerns about using city sales tax dollars for a purchase that would result in the loss of community arts and dance space. Assembly member Bob Hall said he supported the purchase because, “It is a rare occurrence that we have a building across the street from the Capitol.”
Resident Dixie Hood disagreed, however, saying, “We are just being suckers, I think, to hand it to (the state) on a platter.”